“Roberto ‘Sanz’ Sanchez”
By Patrick Donovan – Author/Screenwriter
US Navy Disabled Veteran – 1980 – 1991
Seattle, WA (The Hollywood Times) 05/13/2020
“From his humble beginnings from Cuba to Miami and landing a role in the hit film, 2 Fast 2 Furious, Actor Roberto Sanchez has done it all and he’s just getting warmed up!”
– Patrick Donovan
In the fall of 2002, while working as an armed officer for the Miami Metro System, Roberto Sanchez received a serendipitous phone call that would forever change his life. Only moments earlier he had encountered a belligerent passenger who refused to stop smoking on the evening commute. The phone call was from his agent, apparently respected film director John Singleton had just cast him as one of the leads in 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS, the second installment of the Fast and Furious franchise. Roberto co-starred alongside of actors Paul Walker, Tyrese Gibson and Eva Mendez.
Since his breakout role in 2 Fast 2 Furious, Sanchez has become a reliable, eclectic performer in a variety of roles and platforms over the years. Roberto has shown his phenomenal range as an actor by portraying duel roles as “Larry/Lola” (a cross-dressing singer), in the stage production of HOLLYWOOD & LEVINE. Roberto also received “Rave Reviews” for his portrayal of “Rooftop” (a role previously played by Laurence Fishburne in L.A.) in Gloria Gifford’s stage adaptation of OUR LADY OF 121st STREET, also in L.A. Sanchez, was the first “non-African American” to play “Rooftop” in Stephen Adley Guirgu’s play. Roberto also landed the much coveted role of the “Intellectual/Scholar” Paul Verall, in Garson Kanin’s stage play, BORN YESTERDAY, also performed in Los Angeles.
In TV and Film, Sanchez has also shown that he can transform himself into a variety of different characters. From the “Nerdy” psychologist, Don Mcpherson in CBS’s WITHOUT A TRACE, to his recurring turn as the “Commandeering” Swat Commander in NBC’s THE NIGHT SHIFT or even as the “Ruthless Gang Leader”, Baron Salva in CBS’s TRAINING DAY, opposite the late, Bill Paxton.
The 2015 IMAGEN AWARD NOMINEE (Sanchez was nominated for an Imagen Award for his exceptional performance in the film, LAKE LOS ANGELES), has been considered somewhat of a “closer” as of late with 3 straight season finales. Roberto has come in to close out shows like Hulu’s SHUT EYE, USA Network’s QUEEN OF THE SOUTH and then NBC’s LAW & ORDER: SVU!
Roberto recently wrote, directed and starred in the multi-award-winning film, THE TERMS OF US. Critics have praised the film as “An inspiring film that goes deep into the heart” – Top Shorts, “Sanchez makes a remarkably intelligent and assured directorial debut” – Herald De Paris and “The Terms of Us is a little film with a giant punch” – Dr. Ron Show.
I’ve known Roberto Sanchez for about 5 years and in that time, I found him to be not only a Shipmate (we were both in the US Navy for the same amount of time) but a great friend. He’s wonderful to speak to. He has a passion and dedication to the craft that is rarely found. I attribute that to his Cuban roots and family. It’s all connected. Roberto has done tons of TV shows, movies, shorts, and worked at a milkman early in his life.
Before deciding on a career as an actor, Roberto distinguished himself in the Navy as a Desert Storm veteran, was a Virginia Beach military police officer, competed professionally in the highly touted European league as a Naval basketball player. He became a successful print model then eventually an actor.
How ironic that Roberto’s decision to answer his cell phone rather than to confront a combative commuter launched his career. Sit back, listen or give a read from the interview I did with Roberto Sanchez.
The Interview and Transcript:
Below is the link to the full interview for our low vision and blind community.
The Full Transcript edited for easier reading
Patrick Donovan: Thank you for joining me today, Roberto. It’s a pleasure. Welcome and how are you and your family doing this virus outbreak, doing? I just want to make sure you’re safe and healthy.
Roberto Sanchez: Aw, thank you, Patrick, thank you. I’m doing well. You know, it’s an interesting time for everybody, but we’ve been able to, to adapt fairly well. So, you know, following all the guidelines, you know, it’s staying home as much as possible and you know, we’re going to get through it like everybody else. We’ll, we’ll get through this.
Patrick Donovan: Absolutely. You were born in Havana, Cuba in 1965. You know, I’m five years older than you, sir. So…
Roberto Sanchez: [Laughter]
Patrick Donovan: Talk to me about some of the high and low points of your early beginnings, like where you went to school, college, and who you studied acting and modeling under.
Roberto Sanchez: Well, like you said, I was born in Cuba. I left when I was three and was raised in Miami. Then at the age of 19, I went into the Navy and I was in the Navy for 11 and a half years. Toward the end of that, I started, doing some modeling and commercials, and I decided to pursue that and said, so I got out of the Navy, well, back to Atlanta and that’s kind of where things started rolling for me as far as with the modeling and the acting. I took, you know, just a variety of basic classes, acting classes. I guess my foundation would be a Meisner, you know, and then from there, after about five or six years, learning the ropes and went to Miami again, back home and from there I was fortunate enough to, in my first audition for a film and landed the role of Roberto in 2 Fast 2 Furious, and then that basically changed everything for me and I moved out to LA.
Patrick Donovan: You know, that’s interesting you say that because that was my next question, but I want to touch on the fact that you and I are shipmates, man. We serve the same amount of time in the Navy. While you were deployed in operation Desert Storm, I was working in the Navy Command Center 1989 to 1991. Talk to me about serving our great nation is your role as a police officer in the Navy than in an armed forces officer and the Metro system and how that fateful day when you got the phone call just after you encountered a belligerent passenger who refused to stop smoking and that evening commute?
Roberto Sanchez: I think my training in the military helped me out with that situation. You know, it was obviously an honor to serve, for, for the armed forces, of course here in the United States. I’ve made some great friends that I’m still in contact with to this day and, It really helped me as far as, you know, maturing and just becoming the man that I am today, that attends to travel on, have, memories that will last a lifetime.
As far as that belligerent, passenger. you’re right. I was working as an army officer in the train system and in Miami called Miami Metro rail and, on this particular day, it was five o’clock in the afternoon, I had just gone to work I’m on the my first train for the evening, and it’s, I noticed that gentlemen smoking in the train and you know, you can’t smoke on the train and everything about this individual told me that this was going, this was not going to be a, any of the conversation.
And I approached the gentleman, I said, “Sir, I’m sorry, but you can’t smoke on the train.” And then of course, you know, he looked at me while smoking and he said, you know, “Eff you, I want to smoke this whole pack.” So, I don’t have much of a choice at this time and now I’m now contacting the officer at the other station that he didn’t know that, “Hey, I’m going to be wrestling with this guy that’s actually bigger than me.”
I mean, I’m like six one, this guy was like six, four and I don’t have a choice, I’m going to have to put them off the train and the train was crowded. It was like a rush hour, afternoon rush hour. So, as I’m taking off my hat and I’m calling it in on the radio, I get a phone call and I look, and it’s my, my agent.
And you know, this was usually a late time for her to be calling me, so I wasn’t expecting the call. And I’m looking at the phone, I’m looking at the guy and you know, something tells me that, you know, just answer the phone really quick and I answer it. And it’s my agent letting me know that I had just booked the role in 2 Fast.
And I mean, she was literally screaming and the reason why is because like out of the main characters, they were all out of LA, except for mine. Mine was cast out of Miami. So, for any actor and an agent representing that actor in Miami, it was like hitting the lotto. So, she was extremely excited and you know, she’s explaining to me that, well, you know, “you’re probably going to have to take a leave of absence or quit your job because you know you’re going to be working for about three months, you’ll make a certain amount of money.”
And I was like, wait, what? How much did she say? Yeah. And I was like, I’m looking at this guy. You know, I’m listening to her man and you know, I’m usually not a guy that takes gambles, you know, or I’m not, really a risk taker… very conservative in that way. But something told me to just go with this and just go into this blindly and just believe that it’s going to benefit me somehow, and listen, I told her to hold on. I went up to the guy and I said, “EFF you and you can smoke that whole pack for all I care.” I walked off the train, the other officer was running in and I said, “Don’t worry about it. I took care of it.” I got on the train, heading back to the main office it’s now five fifteen.
I went up to the fifth floor and I gave him my two weeks’ notice and that was a big gamble for me, you know, to leave my job like that not even knowing really what this new adventure was going to be like, but I’m so glad that I did because obviously it changed the projection of my life.
Patrick Donovan: I just can’t imagine you saying that. You know, he’s telling you EFF you, and now you said to him, EFF you, and I’m saying to myself, this is a movie right here. [laughter]
Roberto Sanchez: I like that!
Patrick Donovan: I could see this in a movie scene, man.
Roberto Sanchez: But anyway, I like that. But it was so real, and you know what’s even more interesting because I think it led to that moment the night before and you know, I had been feeling for a while, I don’t think I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, but I just wasn’t really sure.
And the night before I was working the night shift again, and we had an officer that got into a physical altercation with, what appeared to be a homeless individual on one of the platforms. So, he called for backup and when we got there, yeah, we run them over there to try to help them, assist them.
And when we get to the, the individual, that would be an aggressive, you know, he was bleeding from the head and he swiped the blood off his head and throwing it at us, right? He’s throwing the blood at us and he’s talking about, “I got AIDS! I got AIDS!” And I’m like, “What am I doing?” I mean, you know, I’ve got a gun, I got a PR 24, got the Baton, I got pepper spray, I got everything I need. But it’s like, you know, I was trained to handle a gun or take a knife from somebody. But what do you do with that? With somebody just trying to splash blood on you, man and I think that, that moment I realized that I just don’t think that this is it. This is not what I’m supposed to be doing, man, and the very next day I got the phone call. So, that’s what led to that.
Patrick Donovan: And it’s amazing, you know? And it takes me into that you’re recognized as reliable, eclectic performer in a variety of roles over the years, including portraying the dual roles of Larry and Lola and the cross-dressing singer. I remember that picture, Roberto and in the stage production of Hollywood and Levine. I’m going to try and rush these questions a bit but talk to me briefly about that experience.
Roberto Sanchez: Yeah, that was my idea to try to land that role because at the time I was getting just nothing. I had just gotten the roll for Life and all that was being offered were all these villains, you know, these bad guy roles.
And I really wanted to show that I’m a lot more versatile than that. So, I started to look at any roles that were out there and I saw this stage production that was auditioning, and I saw the role of a cross dressing singer. And listen, I think I’m funny and people that know me have said that I’ve made them laugh at least once.
So, I was like, yeah, this is me and I showed up and, you know, I’m kind of like a big guy. So, when I showed up the casting director, she looked at me and said, “No, I don’t think you’re going to be right for this role. You just, you look very, I don’t know, really just really manly,” I’m like, “No, give me a shot,” you know?
And, and she said, okay. And I read for it and she loved it. I mean, she was just floored by it and that was a role that literally helped me start to land, not roles as a cross-dressing singer but, you know, other roles that were not always the villain that was perhaps a bit more lighthearted and, and comedic.
Patrick Donovan: You’ve been in a variety of roles, like I said, Don MacPherson in Without a Trace, and you were a commandeering SWAT commander and NBC’s Night Shift, hint, “Night Shift”, sound familiar? Is Shemar Moore jealous, or even being the ruthless gang leader that you talked about, Barone Salva in Training Day opposite the late Bill Paxton. Those had to be really interesting parts that you played and so, tell me about that.
Roberto Sanchez: You know, I’ve been very fortunate. I think that that’s something that I do, pay attention to, is not always doing the villainous character even though they are the most fun to do and you know, I think it’s important some actors feel that I’m not doing that, I just want to work and I respect that. I mean, I’m a hundred percent behind that, but I just feel like, perhaps in the beginning, take whatever role was given to me, because beggars can’t be choosers, especially when you’re trying to get into this business, which is a very difficult business to get into and have a degree of success in.
So, in the beginning, you know, yeah, I was pretty much doing whatever was offered to me and every chance I get, I would try to do other things, but it was mostly villainous roles, but I knew that I had to be in the game to change the rules. I couldn’t decline roles left and right, because then I’m not able to make a change.
I knew that eventually, once I established myself and hopefully had some kind of name recognition, that I would eventually be able to pick and choose, roles that would show me, in a variety of ways.
Roberto Sanchez: Okay. Well, first of all, Red Winter is a film that we just shot in Colorado. And I believe it was, at one point, minus four degrees. So, as a Cuban, anything below 70 degrees, we start to freak out. I was in a living hell there, but it was, a great cast, a great crew.
I was able to work with, another Cuban, a friend of mine, Doris Morgado, my partner in crime with the film is, Louis Da Silva, Jr., and a film star Vernon Davis who is the Superbowl champ for San Francisco and Ashley Williams and it’s going to look great, man. That’s one thing, you know, it’s beautiful.
I mean, we shot in about five, almost six foot of snow at times. it was just beautiful, gorgeous, cold. It’s an adventure film. Basically the main principals here that I just mentioned, they witness a murder and once, my partner and I realized that they saw us commit this murder, we realized that obviously we can’t leave any witnesses, so then it becomes a cat and mouse type of a film, an adventure in the snow. So, it’s going to be a lot of fun.
The other one was Beneath Us. That one. right before everything happened with Corona, it premiered in the theaters, which I’m very proud of because it’s an independent film and the main cast, is for Latinos and to get this film into theaters, as you know, to get a movie into theaters without the studios backing you is almost impossible.
And we were able to do that. So, I am extremely proud of these guys. you know, we did the film in 2015 but that shows you that through hard work and dedication and not, you know, and believing in yourself, eventually you can achieve what your dreams or whatever they may be and for these guys, it was to get this film, in theaters.
And then of course, I think you mentioned The Terms of Us. That was a film that I directed, produced, and it’s a true story about the search for my mother who I had not seen at the time, for 11 years, for a variety of reasons, man, you know. Issues that I had as a child growing up with her, there was some, physical abuse and mental abuse, some things going on.
So, at the time, I had not seen him for 11 years, a friend of mine, his mother was sick, and I was with him during this time in Miami and that really had me reflecting on my relationship with my mom and I started to wonder, you know, where is she? The last time you saw her was 11 years ago and that was in Miami.
So, with the help of the Chief of Police at Miami Dade, we started to search for her. I had to come back to LA, to a film and I was on my way to set one day, I’m on the 1-0-1 here, which is, as you know, one of the highways and I got a phone call from, my best friend on his planet and he says, “Hey man, can you talk for one moment before you go to work?” I said, “No,” he said, “I need you to do pull over real quick cause I just got to talk to you.” I had forgotten that it’s been about three or four weeks since we’ve given the information to the chief of police, so it was in the back of my mind. I didn’t know that that’s what he was calling about.
And I pulled over and said, “Yo! What’s up man?”, and he says, you know, “We found your mom!” I couldn’t believe it! I mean, I had no clue where she was and to be able to find her whereabouts and in a matter of three weeks, you know, I just was floored. So, I got excited. I’m thinking, oh my God, I got to call my brother and he’s going to be excited! This is going to be possibly a new beginning for us, and this is going to be wonderful. Maybe she can come to LA. I mean, all these things, all these thoughts racing through my mind and he’s trying to get my attention. He’s like, “Hey man, listen, listen to me!” and I was just so excited.
And then finally he said, “Stop!” and I stopped. I said, “What man?” And he says, “We found your mom, but she passed six months ago.” I got to tell you, man, that killed me. That just killed me.
Patrick Donovan: I’m so sorry, man.
Roberto Sanchez: So, you know, a couple of years passed, just because I just couldn’t even begin to even think about telling that story but then once I was able to get to the point where I could try to write something, I decided do the short film on the hopes that people that’ll see it, it will help them re-evaluate relationships in their lives. And because we all have people in our lives who, for whatever reason, we’re not talking to, we’re getting into an argument, whatever.
But the thing is, that we say, what, “I’ll call tomorrow,” or “I’ll call next week or next month” and that turns into months and months and years like it did for me and then maybe when you want to pick up that phone. That person is no longer…we’re not promised tomorrow. So that’s the reason that I did the film.
It’s about 18 minutes long. It’s a short film, obviously. It’s just finishing its festival run. it’s been, about a little over a year. It’s done so well. It’s won over 20 awards. It’s gotten over 25, nominations. Everything from, best short, best actor, best supporting actress for Doris Murgado, was supporting actor for Mauricio Mendoza, and cinematography has gotten nominations, directing got a nomination. So, I’m very proud of it. But more importantly, I’m proud of the fact that the message was shared with so many people. And so many people would come after me at the Q and A’s and they were touched by the film and they would tell me about relationships in their lives that they’re going to try to fix things, or at least reach out to the people in their lives. So very proud of that, though.
Patrick Donovan: Thank you very much for sharing that. My condolences to you and blessings to you and everything. My mom is still with me and I can’t imagine what that’s like. I lost my dad 33 years ago in 1987, so, I know what you’re going through. I wanted to wrap up with a couple of rapid-fire questions with you and this is from the late James Lipton, Inside the Actors Studio because he did so well.
Roberto Sanchez: Uh, oh!
Patrick Donovan: He died on the 2nd of March, and we got two and a half minutes where we can do this. What is your favorite word?
Roberto Sanchez: My favorite word?
Patrick Donovan: Yes, sir.
Roberto Sanchez: Oh my God. Ah, oh, LOVE!
Patrick Donovan: What’s your least favorite word?
Roberto Sanchez: Hate!
Patrick Donovan: What turns you on
Roberto Sanchez: My girlfriend?
Patrick Donovan: What turns you off
Roberto Sanchez: Not being with my girlfriend.
[Roaring laughter by both men]
Patrick Donovan: What sound or noise do you love?
Roberto Sanchez: A child laughing.
Patrick Donovan: What sound or noise do you hate?
Roberto Sanchez: Someone crying.
Patrick Donovan: What profession other than your own, would you like to attempt other than being a police officer?
Roberto Sanchez: If I was single, I would like to be a milkman again. I was a milkman very briefly.
Patrick Donovan: Nice. I remember that. We used to get it delivered when I was a young kid in the sixties. What profession would you not like to do?
Roberto Sanchez: Corrections officer.
Patrick Donovan: Okay. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly Gates?
Roberto Sanchez: You are the most interesting Cuban I know.
Patrick Donovan: Not a Dominic Toretto?
Roberto Sanchez: No! Not Dominic Toretto.
Patrick Donovan: Yeah, it was good. I love those movies, man. Finally, with the remaining couple of minutes we have left, say anything you’d like to the listeners and the readers. I’ll be transcribing this. This is all your time, Roberto.
Roberto Sanchez: You know, obviously, you know, these are great opportunities to promote what we do, as actors or actresses, singers, what have you.
But I think, more importantly, to spread a message of love, man. Love for your neighbor, love for each other. These are interesting times, man. I don’t know that we’ve ever experienced anything like this. So I think that with all our differences, I think it’s very important for us to come together during these times and trust me, man, if we do that, we can get out of this and we can get out of this as quickly as possible.
But that’s the thing, man. You know, we got to get people back out there working, going back to work. And even then, it’s going to take a minute to get the economy back to where it was. So, the quicker that we can pay attention to the guidelines and stay home and social distancing and all these things, the quicker people can get back to work.
So, think about your neighbors. Think about your family. Think about your friends. Think about everybody. Think about yourself and I think that it’s very important that we help each other during these times.
Patrick Donovan: Thank you very much, Roberto, for your time and I wish you all the best in your career. We should talk again, alright? Talk to you later.
Roberto Sanchez: Thank you. Absolutely, man. Thank you so much. Thank you.
Patrick Donovan: Bye. Bye.